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Tourist's death linked to ingestion of saltpetre

Published:Sunday | January 9, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer

An autopsy into the death of Argentinean tourist, Aldo Malaspina, who died after eating a meal of fish and potatoes two weeks ago, points to an ingestion of saltpetre, according to reports reaching The Sunday Gleaner.

Sodium nitrate (saltpetre) is often used for curing meats. It is believed that Malaspina, whose command of the English language was limited, purchased the product, mistaking it for table salt. He reportedly used it excessively in the meal that he prepared, and this was evidenced by the half-empty bottle of saltpetre that was found at the villa he occupied in St Mary.

Malaspina was vacationing here with Lucas and Venecia Vall, who came to Jamaica to renew their wedding vows, having married in Japan a year ago. Venecia Vall is a Jamaican university teacher residing in Japan.

"Saltpetre prevents the haemoglobin in the blood from carrying oxygen at high levels. So you get headache, blue colour to skin and dizziness, trouble breathing, heart failure, and ultimately, death," a biochemist, who is not part of the medical team investigating the case, told this newspaper.

He said if too much was inhaled, it could scorch the nasal passages and the lungs.

Unconfirmed reports are that Malaspina's throat was badly burnt from the effects of whatever he ate.

"The only type of fish that would trigger that type of result would likely be barracuda or Fuju (Puffer fish) because of the level of toxicity that could come from those types of fish," said the expert, dismissing assumptions that the fish could have caused the death.

Countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have regulated the use of saltpetre, he said.

US Federal regulations permit a maximum addition of 2.75oz of sodium, or potassium nitrate, per 100 pounds of chopped meat, and 0.25oz sodium, or potassium nitrite, per 100 pounds of chopped meat.

Since these small quantities are difficult to weigh out on most available scales, it is strongly recommended that a commercial pre-mixed cure be used when nitrate or nitrite is called for in any recipe.

Dr Marion Ducasse, director of emergency, disaster management and special services in the Ministry of Health said she could not say how soon the autopsy would be released as investigations were still going on.